‘Without Nutri-Score, junk food thrives’: FOP label ‘significantly’ improves nutritional quality, claims report

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

The nutritional quality improved 'considerably' between 2015 and 2022, according to UFC-Que Choisir, but only on shelves where Nutri-Score is widely displayed. GettyImages/Stadtratte
The nutritional quality improved 'considerably' between 2015 and 2022, according to UFC-Que Choisir, but only on shelves where Nutri-Score is widely displayed. GettyImages/Stadtratte

Related tags nutri-score

On shelves where Nutri-Score is widely displayed in France, nutritional quality has significantly improved, according to UFC-Que Choisir, a consumer organisation calling for its mandatory adoption.

The algorithm behind voluntary front-of-pack (FOP) labelling scheme Nutri-Score regularly sparks debate.

For some, including members of the Scientific Committee of the Nutri-Score (ScC),​ the label performs ‘well’. Food majors Nestlé and Danone​ are amongst its supporters, and France, Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg have selected it as their national voluntary label schemes.

For others, including proponents of Italy’s NutrInform Battery scheme​ and members of Spain’s meat industry​, Nutri-Score is discriminatory and unworthy of consideration for the EU-wide mandatory roll out, expected to be announced by the European Commission this year.

Whether the Nutri-Score algorithm – which ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ products to +40 for those that are ‘less healthy’ – is the most effective at helping consumers make healthier choices or not, new research out of France suggests it is having a positive impact on the nutritional quality of products on-shelf.

Some recipes up to five times healthier

In a report published this week by Union Fédérale des Consommateurs (UFC-Que Choisir), the consumer organisation observed that nutritional quality improved ‘considerably’ between 2015 and 2022, but only on shelves where Nutri-Score label is widely displayed.

In three categories in particular where the Nutri-Score label is often present – across cereal bars, special breads and rusks, and breakfast cereals – recipes are up to five times ‘healthier’ since 2015.

Nutri-Score is displayed across 43% of cereal bars, 61% of special breads and rusks, and 97% of breakfast cereals.

“In just seven years, the proportion of favourable Nutri-Score ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ for cereal bars has doubled (from 25% to 49%),” ​noted UFC-Que Choisir. The share of Nutri-Score ‘A’ and ‘B’ has multiplied nearly five-fold for breakfast cereals (from 8% to 38%), and increased from 40% to 62% for specialty breads and rusks.

Using Nestlé as an example, the food major’s cereal bars are now all Nutri-Score ‘C’ or ‘B’, according to the consumer organisation, citing notable reductions in fat, salt or sugar levels.

Since 2015, retailer Intermarché’s Chabrior ​chocolate muesli product has moved up to a ‘B’ rating, while la Boulangère ​tortillas have achieved a Nutri-Score ‘A’.

But other categories lagging…

Conversely, where Nutri-Score is not widely displayed, nutritional improvements are lagging, according to UFC-Que Choisir: “Without the Nutri-Score display, junk food thrives.”

The consumer organisation studied four more food categories where the FOP label is rarely carried by food makers: just 17% of biscuits and cakes carry Nutri-Score; 17% of bars and chocolate snacks; 10% of condiment sauces; and less than 1% of ice creams and sorbets.

“These categories have not experienced major nutritional improvements since 2015,” ​according to UFC-Que Choisir. More than half of ice cream and sorbet products (52%) achieve a Nutri-Score ‘E’ or ‘D’, as does three-quarters (75%) of the condiment sauces category.

Nine out of 10 products in the bars & chocolate snacks category and biscuits & cakes category achieve a Nutri-Score ‘E’ or ‘D’.

Further, products carrying a Nutri-Score ‘E’ make up just 1% of all national food brands, which UFC-Que Choisir suggests means most ‘junk food’ brands are opting not to carry the FOP label.

For the consumer organisation, an advocate for the mandatory adoption of Nutri-Score across the EU, the analysis highlights the ‘major’ limitations Nutri-Score’s voluntary nature in France.

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